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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Judge condemns independent social worker who assessed children taken to Syria by mother

Written by Brian Farmer

An independent social worker - who assessed four children whose mother was jailed after taking them to the Syrian border - has come under fire from a High Court judge asked to make decisions about the youngsters' futures.

Mr Justice Newton says evidence Carol Edwards gave during proceedings in the Family Division of the High Court was "unbalanced", "misconceived" and "unfair".

He said Mrs Edwards had "bent the evidence to support her particular and narrow perspective".

The judge has spelled out criticisms of Mrs Edwards in a written ruling published on a legal website.

He said the children, aged between five and the middle teens, could not be identified.

Council social services bosses had asked him to make decisions about where the children should live in the wake of fears that their mother, who the judge said had "extreme beliefs", had radicalised them.

He concluded that they should live with their father rather than go into foster care.

The judge said their mother had been jailed more than two years ago after being arrested by Turkish police and returned to the UK.

He said any contact they had with their mother would need to be "professionally supervised".

Mr Justice Newton said Mrs Edwards had addressed the "central issues" in the case.

But he said he had rejected her evidence "in its entirety".

"She is a witness of very considerable experience and expertise, apparently relied on by many other judges in other courts," said the judge in his ruling.

"I was surprised at the force and strength of her language, which had little bearing on reality."

He added: "She prefaced many answers with a deep, melodramatic (and quite unnecessary) sigh. She had in fact, even in the witness box a most unfortunate manner, being at the same time both patronising and didactic.

"She argued strongly for the advantages for these children of long-term foster care, she seemed to find a shadow in every corner, describing or interpreting behaviours that every other witness found difficult, indeed impossible, to believe; I too, having met the children, do not think at all, as did Mrs Edwards, that the children are shy, deceitful, undermining and intent on subversion."

The judge said the case was the first Mrs Edwards had dealt with concerning "radicalisation".

He said there had been an "abject failure" to "consider, let alone weigh" the "very considerable, overwhelmingly obvious, and important positive aspects" of the children living with their father and within their family.

"At no point did I gain any impression that she had stood back objectively to assess the pros and cons, but increasingly that she had formed a view, and all her apparent, rather brief observations, and opinions (not echoed by any other witness) were brought to bear to support that view," said the judge.

"That is to say that she bent the evidence to support her particular and narrow perspective."

He added: "Putting to one side the unattractive delivery, her evidence was therefore unbalanced, ultimately misconceived; it was unfair. It is therefore of no assistance to me and I reject it in its entirety."

Mr Justice Newton said the contrast with the allocated council social worker "could not have been more marked", and went on: "He was a really impressive individual, not just possessing sensitive, cultural understanding, but having the considerable advantage of being informed, interested, humane and demonstrating a really balanced appreciation of the many layers of this complex case."

The judge had analysed evidence at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London in November.

His ruling has now been published on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website.

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